Mark 5:16

Then those who had seen it related to them all that had happened to the possessed man, as well as about the pigs;

little by little
we reconstruct a crime scene
investigative tools are accumulated
models are tested and refined
success on TV only takes an hour

bit by bit
we take in on-going mysteries of life
a meditation here revelation there
individual blessing v. communal goods
approach resolution with Zeno slowness

piece by piece
values and accommodations show
revealed through consensus
as loud majorities learn larger truths
and we move by steps and jumps

An eye-witness account brings to mind a trial. We can almost hear multiple stories vying for attention and those with lawyerly minds trying to shape questions that will clarify the scene for those who were not there.

This reflects some of the double grammatical reference to a single event that is found in the Greek.

As in any scene where there are multiple reports being told, there is a matter of both the physical location of the witness as well as their state of mind or additional investments (job security and the like). Some witnesses focus on the man, influenced by the return of one of their own or someone they know who needs a similar healing. Others will be concerned about the pigs—what this does to their economic affairs or any consequence coming from the Romans who now won’t be feasting on tasty cracklings or bacon.

Confusion is the order of this verse. The result of confusion is generally a making of things worse as the scaredest voice becomes the loudest. Those with the clearest agenda will find a way to use the confusion to their advantage. Note that it is easier to set lines of division than to invite inclusion past current boundaries.

Whether attention is given to the healing of a person or the stampede of the pigs, a power has been recognizably released and everyone knows that this is a call to re-organize the culture or to double down on the present troubles. Even though there is no staying the same, stasis is still our default perspective and everyone knows trouble has already been stirred. It is just a matter of time before this power will request changes in each person present. Pretty scary.

Mark 5:15

When they came to Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind – the man who had had the ‘Legion’ in him – and they were awe-struck.

we come running to a disaster
expecting the worst
ready with a favorite conspiracy
eager to blame

not ready to be surprised
by a small blessing
in a larger values question
caught between fear awe wonder

caught off guard reveals our practice
of enough amid abundance
shaping our premeditated response
of mercy and joy

Translators of “holy words” are notorious for protecting those words through conscious and unconscious Bowdlerizing—making things sound pious and pretty rather than accurate.

Here we have two such obfuscations. The first is in the third line, “with many demons”. This is not a parallelism, but is redundant from the end of the second line and covers up the public, plural, and political overtones of τὸν λεγιῶνα (the Legion) by using “many demons”.

The second distortion is a critical narrative point for Mark’s reporting. The final word is here translated “awe”. The Greek word ἐφοβήθησαν is better heard as “fear”. Strong’s Concordence says this word is translated as “fear” (62 times), “be afraid (23x), be afraid of” (5x) and as “reverence” or awe only once. While a case could be made for “awe” turned to “fear”, even as crowds make the same shift in their relationship with Jesus and play a part in his eventual murder by the state, it seems that a first response would be more fear-like—“Oh oh, can we trust this is not a trick and he’ll tear his clothes off and attack us?!”

A key question is what other softened phrasing have you spotted in your reading of the Bible. If you have not suspected that there is more irony and challenge than a pious reading will reveal, it suggests having put your trust in translators of the institution rather than a strong spirit unsatisfied that the status quo is sufficient for this day, much less tomorrow. A finer, closer, reading will bring a “changed heart” much sooner.

Mark 5:14

Then the men who tended them ran away, and carried the news to the town, and to the country around; and the people went to see what had happened.

never seeing a whole picture
we tell our part

it is difficult to not speculate
beyond our few factoids

meaning seekers tell stories
first to self and then to others

this saying more than can be known
sets up division and antagonism

seldom in this is the fault ours
something slouching and external came

our suffering requires an implacable evil
to outweigh our frail ego

It is still important to be the first to break a story for this is the narrative that sets available responses.

Those responsible for the care of the pigs have a responsibility to themselves to report their innocence in the loss of valuable resources in their care. Of course they need to clear their name and the easiest way to do that is to report a terrorist attack. Demons did it and Jesus gave them permission. He’s to blame, not us. With jobs at stake, reporting tells more than can be known by shaving off a detail here and subtly suggesting an inference there.

In a dysfunctional system that is inherent in gaps between rich and poor, occupier and occupied, the practical matter of job security is critical to the marginalized. If it is a choice between one mad man and a herd of pigs, the pigs win—every time.

People are not just neutrally coming to see what happened. A car crash is expected and a gapers-block is the best that can be expected. More likely minds have been made up and a story is well on the way to being shaped. Frankenstein’s monster brought forth pitchforks. Jesus is already being seen as holding a pitchfork larger than the Devil’s own. Nervousness and jumpiness are the order of the day. There is no fair and balanced counter-narrative available. Only preapproved echo-chamber phrases will be offered.

24/7 news cycles have nothing on a local grapevine when it comes to bad news. Tales are spun, pictures painted, explanations given—all ahead of any news about one back in his own mind. The stock market is down. This hits the whole economy and who knows what cranky decisions hungry Romans will take out on everyone.

Mark 5:13

Jesus gave them leave. They came out, and entered into the pigs; and the drove – about two thousand in number – rushed down the steep slope into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

permission to be ourself
opens a hand to release
Pandoran fact and fantasy

invasive species run wild
upsetting usual accommodations
eroding standardized relationships

seeing the result of our toxicity
injected in a test animal
elicits a sense of great pity

yes we’ve wanted to drown
a first-step refusing secret
at a horrendous cost we awake

there is no taking back harm done
for all that has been weep
for all to come choose again

The slightest of nods is sufficient for Legion to bolt before a second thought can be brought to bear and they find themselves even further afield.

This is not a slow exit like a Guinea Worm but a mad dash as Legion swarmed out. Such an exit would likely leave the still unnamed man (meaning you or me or all) both relieved and seizuring.

And so the irony as described by Perkins:

Although the demons try to avoid being driven out of the country, they wind up in the sea (the waters of chaos), where they belong. To a Jewish audience the loss of such an enormous number of swine might have been a humorous reversal in the story. Or, if the impurity of the setting was evoked by the swine, the drowned legion of demons suggests that Jesus has cleansed the area.

Such a potential cleansing is not limited to the biblical literalism identifying swine, by virtue of their hooves, as unclean. The uncleanliness of Empire must also be considered. While priests may rejoice at the keeping of the letter of the law, Jesus’ prophetic tradition is never satisfied with such an easy response. That which Legion represents, the economic/military machine that is Rome, must also be included—even as it would include the economic/military machine that is present day United States of America (as well as other powers such as Russia, China, and India—including anti-client-states such as ISIS).

The process of making whole again is never only individual, but touches every part of a context. We seem to seldom get out of dis-ease other than through paroxysm.

Mark 5:12

and the spirits begged Jesus, “Send us into the pigs so that we can take possession of them.”

every demon seeks eternality
any life extension is worth pursuing
there is no quit or death chi here
only unregulated persistence

open-eyed assessment reveals moments
each unfated conversionable
strung together as a tale
wagging its teller

a next planned move is unavoidable
filled with ironic consequences
undifferentiated on the surface
from any wild-haired scheme

not even a retreat into serendipity
avoids terrible no-good days
in the end there is no escape
not even well-practiced detachment

best plans are agleed
worst qualities rise
a cure but delays decay
we are but who we are

In verse 10 there is a pleading for compassion for that which would allow the continued presence of Legion in the area. This would mean that the Nothing or Emptiness of Life would continue to be present and grow there. The Empire can continue.

As it becomes evident the appeal for a special dispensation is not going to be honored and Legion is going to have to move beyond their current host, there comes the existential question, “What now?”

When pigs on a hillside are spotted, it only takes a moment to see a potential staging area from which to search for a new host—let’s go there.

An appealing plea shifts into high gear and we move to the next level of unabashed begging. To avoid banishment, Legion will settle for worse conditions rather than no conditions. In the same way we put up with disastrous weather as being better than no weather at all.

In the present and in every time, we do well to see what options are available to us. Too often we settle for a demotion as the better option to being fired without asking structural questions of what brought about a loss of jobs and income for laborers. Here a choice needs to be made between receiving less-and-less and separating into multiple minorities fighting one another or joining, across differences, in common cause. Have today’s intentionally disadvantaged simply settled for a shrinking sty? If so, it is likely that an exorcism of or revolution against the current Legion/Empire will, sooner or later, arise.

Mark 5:11

There was a large drove of pigs close by, feeding on the hillside;

cultural omens vary
as much as their measurement
of private and communal success

that which is clean or unclean
or honorable or shameful
is not universable

it is location location location
interpreted through one lens or another
that sets self-inflicted boundaries

for instance anatomically similar pigs
raise hackles by their mere mention
stimulate bacon-induced drool

There are political overtones to whatever is being said. Even silence carries import when a witness is in order.

Such a simple word as “herd” means more than a group of animals. Its context regarding Roman military presence has already been mentioned, but it is entirely too easy to let it slide to the back of our consideration of the location of this scene.

In its context, there is no reason for “herd” not to be heard as “band”. Myers puts it this way:

This unlikely story offers a symbolic portrait of how Roman imperialism was destroying the hearts and minds of a colonized people. If the synagogue demoniac spoke “under the influence” of the scribal establishment, then the Gerasene demoniac represents Rome’s military occupation of the land and its people. That this episode is a kind of political cartoon critical of Roman imperialism is confirmed by the recurring military terminology that follows. Legion begs to be sent into a “band” of pigs (5:11), a Greek term usually referring to a group of military recruits. Sarcasm is evident here, since the swine cult was popular among Roman soldiers.

With these military connections we can see a sympathetic magic of like-calling-to-like. It seems natural that Legionnaires under duress would look around and see a friendly escape route through their adopted mascot. We are also put on edge for there is a significant economic cost to remove the military underpinning of Empire.

Hopefully we are now able to hear an unspoken “palin” (again), remember an earlier encounter with a demoniac, and add in a Jewish poetic form of parallelism. This draws out additional overtones to the critique of Jesus and his preference for prophets before priests as a means to transform today’s separations into a more holistic reality offered by tomorrow.

Mark 5:10

and he begged Jesus again and again not to send them away out of that country.

people are persistent
  no matter your plumbline
  bank account
  grade level
  personality profile
  family position
  religious affirmation
  political party

we are attached to our station
woe to any who would rename us
a forced beneficent remake never considers
ensuing suffering and experience of death
a status in hand is valuable
valuable enough to die for
settling for today’s difficulties
is rule number one

Remembering the socio-political situation of Roman occupation and guarding of trade routes that benefits the rich to the detriment of the poor, Legion is speaking of the Roman army begging to not be sent from this place. Another Legion are those profiting from the occupation by selling pigs to the Boars (Roman army mascot).

The word here translated as “region” (χώρα, chora) carries overtones of “emptiness” which is as good a description of a graveyard as there is—a storehouse of emptied lives. This emptiness is still of value to many who are yet alive for a bit more as they pour memories into the land along with still bodies. Legion’s emptiness is better than they find elsewhere among a land and people who have only fetters and chains in their relational toolbox.

Imagine “emptiness” being a preferred place.

Well, did you do the imaginative work?

Now add Luke’s version which begs not to leave the region but begs not to return to the ἄβυσσος (abyssos, abyss), the deep, chaos, sheol, the place of the dead. This is probably a closer accounting of the sources of both Mark and Luke.

Both have their story to tell, and the use of “emptiness” rather than the traditional “abyss” helps to move us from traditional religious talk to everyday conversations. This shift opens us away from thinking we understand what we are being told to a more reflective opportunity to think about emptiness in our own life and all around us.

This verse doesn’t get much attention from commentators but is critical to moving the story along. As a transition verse this is one we might identify with as my short life moves our longer story along.

Mark 5:9

And he asked him,  “What is your name?” “My name,” he said, “is Legion, for there are many of us;”

my name is Legion
I have gathered myself
into a coherent unit
out of all the possible me’s

my heroes and bullies
parents relatives peers
have done their best
to shape me in their image

bosses and comrades in labor
teachers and TV commercials
added their values in
to be thanked and resisted

I am called and controlled
first by one name and then another
each a façade for a number
claiming my allegiance

who am I you ask
a waif of smoke
awaiting my descent of dove
borne and born from above

The exorcising command to leave is backed off from. There is time to delve deeper into what is going on.

An important first question is about identity. Until we can agree about who we are, an on-going relationship will play out of roles rather than personhood. It is always helpful to ask what another’s “Preferred Personal Pronouns” are.

The exiled man has already identified Jesus as related with a G*D of creation (and re-creation—healing). Now Jesus asks, rather than labels, the identity of a person of no place. This takes us out of the magic and power of name-knowing and sets both on a level plane.

So we hear a self-identity of “Legion”.

This is not an easy identity: “I am Legion”, begins in the singular and ends in the plural.

On a simple level we know that there are many internal wars and warriors. The reference to Rome suggests a battalion of 2,048 who need feeding. This is not a scene where people can be arranged by 100’s so we prepare for a different kind of feeding/healing process.

As we proceed we will find that this story moves from singular (meeting) to plural (naming) and back to singular (healing) again. This accords well with our own individual and communal being. Who we know ourselves to be is different from who others know us to be. Our growth plate is the intersection between these as both ourself and our various communities ebb and flow. To be able to talk person-to-person and person-to-community is a precious gift.

Mark 5:8

For Jesus had said, “Come out from the man, you foul spirit.”

even before repentance
is on the horizon
we prepare to act
as though it were true

when another stands in need
having seen it a long way off
we have already acted
a prevenient partner

when it is me in need
having lived with it forever
it is still a surprise
when relief comes BANG

we are whiplashed
while running to say begone
we are enveloped with welcome
our circle circled

stories of life
live in this dynamic
fade without it
are reprised without end

A command is not always a command as we are continuing a conversation after an order has been given. This willingness to listen further than a first decision reminds us of the importance of partnership and valuing horizontal relationships.

What a different story it would be if Jesus were to have every answer to every situation already written down on a cheat sheet to be pulled out, checked, and enforced.

With a little extra time the story can get played out a bit further and we will see where our values have been tempted and caught along the way. Bargaining with G*D, institutions, and one another reveals much about how we are engaged in the world.

A number of translations do not follow a sequence of Jesus first, chain-breaking man second, and back to Jesus. There is more of a sense of simultaneity or Jesus opening his mouth to speak. See the Easy-to-Read, Good News, New Life, New Testament for Everyone, and The Voice versions listed at James A. Kleist, in his translation found in The Memoirs of St. Peter: The Gospel According to St. Mark, Translated into English Sense-Lines, records it this way: “for He was about to say to him”.

For whatever reasons, the “standard” versions are oriented toward a linear presentation while the lesser-attested versions carry a more dynamic interaction of both Jesus and the yet unnamed man speaking and interacting at the same time. Your preference?

Mark 5:7

shrieking out in a loud voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake do not torment me!”

like love’s beginning
we deflect to denial
our fear of rejection
so overwhelming
so potentially deflating
so I’ll just die

we test and probe
you’re ugly
nobody likes you
why are you here
what are you trying to pull
I’ll never …

will this be the last word
can this amount of resistance
be overcome by a remaining flicker
time to turn our backs
fantasize what might have been

The versification here is suspect as verse 6 is focused on the specialness of Jesus and this verse shows the worst of regular humans. The specialness of humans cannot helpfully be separated from the any, otherwise, divine aspect. Such a duality eventually leads to a “divine right of kings” relationship within a community of people.

= = = = = = =

This person is all too well acquainted with torture. They know it even before they see it. Torture is the water they swim in. Shackles for the feet and chains for the arms are just the easiest to recognize of torture’s forms.

Early and late the occupation of a land and people requires physical, mental, relational, and spiritual torture. Each application brings further dehumanization.

Each affront brings forth a next stronger reaction. This is true whether it is earth responding to fracking with increased earthquakes or humans with volcanic eruptions when they have their identity robbed by systems intended to privilege some over all.

With this in mind, the next question is what torture does this Jesus have in mind?

We might hear this serially-bound person mutter, “I have identity as a demoniac. Who will I be if I don’t have that and am still in my own country that has turned me into acting demonically?” This question is our land-locked question, just as it was a question asked by the disciples at sea when a storm was stilled (4:41). “Who is this? What does this have to do with me?”

First a kneeling and flattering address to set up the next gambit—exorcise the exorcist. Knowing that there are chains strong enough to predestine me alongside Sisyphus, it becomes important to get an agreement, a swearing, similar to a legislated “Protected Concerted Activity” for an employee where the employer can fire at will. While socially labeled mad, there is good worldly wisdom in their dealings.